Before Dwyane Wade and LeBron James produced championships as teammates, they produced some of the best head-to-head drama in the NBA.
That made Christmas a flashback Thursday, best friends embracing pregame, joking alongside one another at the scorers' table at halftime . . . and then restoring a rivalry dormant during four consecutive seasons of runs to the NBA Finals as teammates.
Now back on their own, Wade this time got the best of his friend, leading the Miami Heat to a dramatic nationally televised 101-91 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at AmericanAirlines Arena.
"It was great," Wade said. "When I came into the league, I really didn't have a rivalry opponent . . . he brought out the best in me."
With Wade scoring 31 and improving to 9-1 in Christmas Day appearances, the Heat had enough to overcome James' 30 in this first meeting between the teams since James left the Heat as a free agent in the offseason.
"It brought back old times and the battles we had," James said. "Once we put up 30 against each other, it was like old times."
For a night, Wade vs. LeBron was nearly as compelling as Wade alongside LeBron.
"A couple of the best in this generation," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's spectacular. I wish I could sit back and enjoy it as a fan.
"For however long these two play, you get your money's worth."
Wade was supported by 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists from forward Luol Deng, the player who was signed to help replace James and the player who spent most of Thursday defending James fullcourt.
"I had enough energy to do both," Deng said.
Each of Deng's 40 minutes was essential.
"Lu was fantastic with his energy, his endurance," Spoelstra said. "And he got us into relief baskets on the other end.
"He takes pride in completing the task."
Guard Kyrie Irving added 25 points for Cleveland.
As was the case in Tuesday's loss to the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat experienced a second-half power failure, this time scoring just 15 points in the third period.
But from there, the Heat found a way, this time overcoming a blown 17-point lead, after failing to win from 23 ahead against the 76ers.
"Just from the non-storyline point of view," Spoelstra said, "from our perspective, it was good to see us respond after a real tough loss the other night."
Still, the Cavaliers exited 17-11, the Heat 14-16.
"None of us feel like we're a 14-16 team," Spoelstra said. "We feel like we have a bigger potential."
After blowing their early 17-point lead, the Heat moved to an 86-81 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a jumper by Deng.
Wade then returned with that same score with 5:55 left, after taking a brief break. He missed his next shot, leaving him 1 of 10 from the field on his last 10 shots to that stage.
From there, Wade converted a pair of free throws and center Chris Andersen had a rebound on one end and layup on the other for a 90-81 Heat advantage.
But a Wade turnover and James 3-point play in transition, moments after James had missed a pair of free throws, trimmed the Heat lead to 90-84 with 3:40 to play.
A 3-pointer by former Heat swingman Mike Miller drew Cleveland within 90-87, only to have Heat forward Danny Granger match it with a 3-pointer of his own for a 93-87 Heat lead.
A Wade pass for an Andersen layup then put the Heat up 96-87.
Granger, one of the players the Heat added to help replace James, then scored inside to put the Heat up 97-87, effectively ending it.
"It was encouraging to see our guys come together," Spoelstra said.
The Heat played for the seventh consecutive game in the absence of starting center Chris Bosh, who remained sidelined by a strained left calf but could return for Saturday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies, the sixth game on this seven-game homestand that concludes Monday against the Orlando Magic.
The Cavaliers also had to rework their lineup, with center Anderson Varejao lost for the season in their Tuesday night victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves with a torn Achilles. That had Cleveland opening small, with Kevin Love shifting to center from power forward.
Cleveland opened with three former Heat players in their staring lineup, with Miller and Shawn Marion opening alongside James.
For their part, the Heat continued with Andersen opening in place of Bosh.
Spoelstra streamlined his rotation, with rookies Shabazz Napier and James Ennis both held out.
"This," Wade said, "was a good win, after having a bad loss the other night."
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